Posted: 09 Jan 2009 03:00 PM CST
Did you know that a ‘Mountain Goat’ isn’t even a true goat? A combination of spreadable hooves, traction-providing pads and dewclaws (vestigial claws up behind their hooves) help them climb surfaces that would seem difficult even to the most sure-footed primate. We are so used to seeing larved, hooved, four-legged mammals walk heavily on the ground that watching one touch the sky is nothing short of awe-inspiring.
(Images via eickholt and wildphotons)
So why do they climb? Well, in some cases they get off the ground to escape predators. In others, they are simply seeking out a salt or mineral lick which may occupy them for hours once found - even at dizzying heights while a goat is perched in an impossibly precarious position as shown above. Kids (baby mountain goats) climb within hours of birth, though their parents often perch below to catch them just in case.
At up to 300 pounds per goat these creatures are all the more uncanny for their ability to carry such great weights up slopes as steep as 60 degrees or steeper. If that does not sound terribly steep, take out a measuring device and try climbing up something that steep yourself! Even at altitude the weather rarely seems to bother mountain goats - they can withstand up to -50 degree temperatures and winds of over 100 miles per hour.
Even with their formidable defenseive mechanisms, however, Mountain Goats are not immune to falls - or to predators. The Golden Eagle poses a significant threat to smaller mountain goats in particular. They can be forced off an edge or even carried away in their entirety. This video (from which the above screenshots were captured as stills) shows an amazed goat being quickly overwhelmed by a self-assured aerial predator.
Of course the (misnamed) Mountain Goat is not the only fascinating goat in the world. Tree Climbing Goats are likewise uncanny climbers that can scale the slimmest and most elastic of tree branches in search of food. Fainting Goats are a relatively recently discovered breed of goat that faint and fall over at the slightest sound. Finally, let’s not forget the six-horned goat - well, at least according to a chinese newspaper.
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